Other interview questions seem more difficult than “What are your greatest strengths?” Many job seekers find it hard to answer questions about weaknesses, why you want to leave your job, or “Tell me about yourself.” By contrast, the greatest strengths interview question may seem like a walk in the park.
Maybe that’s why so many job seekers throw away the opportunity this question offers.
Some common mistakes include:
- Talking about strengths that are seen as a bare minimum, such as honesty, reliability, or the ability to perform a task that’s essential to the role. All of this goes without saying, so it won’t stand out. “We should definitely hire him because he says he’s honest”–said no interviewer, ever.
- Naming strengths that aren’t highly relevant to the job. Excellent writing is useful, but for a camera operator or a service technician it has limited relevance.
- Claiming you have certain strengths but not giving the interviewer any reason to believe you. Why would they give you the benefit of the doubt? They don’t know you, and the sad fact is that many candidates lie.
- Describing only one strength when the interviewer has used the plural of the word, “strengths.” Why give only one? Even if the word was singular, “greatest strength,” nobody is going to disqualify you for offering one more.
- Including too many strengths, so that the answer takes too long (more than a minute or two) and the best gets lost among the rest.
How to answer the greatest strengths question effectively:
First, jot down a list of what you think might be your greatest strengths. (For help, read my 10 Questions to Identify Your Unique Selling Proposition as a Job Candidate.)
Next, put a star next to each item that is highly relevant to the job.
Now, put a star next to any item representing a strength that’s exceptional, something the other interviewees may not have.
Then put a star next to each strength for which you have a story, certification, award or other evidence that proves that strength.
Notice which strengths have the most stars. From those, choose your best three. Do they form a well-rounded picture of you? If not, consider a different grouping. Do include both hard and soft skills.
Finally, practice your answer.
What if you’ve already told them your greatest strengths? Should you repeat yourself?
If you’ve read my book, Get That Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Interview, or my posts about answering “Tell me about yourself,” then you may have already presented your REV points—which are some of your very best strengths—near the beginning of the interview. Good! Begin your “greatest strengths” answer by reminding the interviewer—very, very briefly—of those points, then add one or two more.
Here’s an example. Linda, a sales manager in a technology firm, could answer like this:
“Earlier, I mentioned my track record of exceeding goals in Fortune 500 companies, and my ability to successfully navigate rapid change. In addition to those strengths, I also have a strong technical background. Having gotten my bachelor’s in Systems Administration, I communicate well with the product development people, both within the firm and on the customer side. It was because of that ability that I was able to sign Mega-Lo-Mart, our third-largest enterprise customer last year. Here’s how I did that…”
Now that you know how to answer the greatest strengths interview question, are you ready to answer the one that often comes with it–the weakness question?